On Valentine’s day last year, my Facebook feed exploded with Pakistani memes that, on the one hand, used Islamic texts to criticize the day as unIslamic and, on the other, poked fun at the religious opposition to the holiday.
When I conducted interviews with Pakistani women in Karachi over the summer, I expected Valentine’s day to be a salient event for my participants. I did find religious resistance to Valentine’s Day. The more religious-minded participants were likely to say things like: “St. Valentine is remembered for fathering illegitimate children, so the day is sinful.”
Less religious women, however, seemed surprised that I even asked about it. “I can’t remember what I did,” they would say, or they would criticize it as “cheesy” or “too commercial.” A few respondents asked: “Why does there have to be one day for love? Every day should be a celebration of love.”
Based on the media, I was expecting a contest between people who embraced Valentine’s Day and people who rejected it, but I only found one side of the debate: the rejection. There didn’t seem to be a large group of women who embraced it. Among those who didn’t outright reject it, I discovered only disinterest.
All this suggests that the push to make Valentine’s Day a thing in Pakistan is more about capitalism and the globalization of Western norms and practices, than it is about a grassroots desire for such a celebration. It is the marketers, mall managers, and restaurant owners that seem most interested in Valentine’s Day. I originally thought of this as a battle between the religious and secular members of the society, but it seems to be, instead, a resistance by some to efforts of companies to find one more way to make money.
Fauzia Husain is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Virginia. She is currently studying globalization through an exploration of Pakistani women’s narratives about love.